Holiday Food Traditions Around the World

We all know how much Santa loves his milk and cookies. But there are many lesser-known holiday food traditions taking place all over the world.

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Festive Food Traditions

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, New Year's, Hanukkah or any other winter solstice holiday, there are sure to be a few familial or cultural traditions to go along with it — none more satisfying than those that include food. Here are a few rituals celebrated around the world during the holidays that have had real staying power.

Britain: Stir-Up Sunday

Making traditional Christmas pudding is a labor-intensive process that involves soaking the fruit, steaming and lots of stirring. "Stir-up Sunday" dates back to the Victorian era and is celebrated on the last Sunday before the start of the advent. Family members come together to stir the pudding, making a silent wish on his or her turn. Often, a coin is added to the pudding, promising good luck to the person who finds it at Christmas dinner.

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France: Oysters

In the United States, we associate oysters with decadence. But in France, they're a holiday staple. Oysters are at their best during the winter months, and no table in France would be complete without them. In fact, nearly half of all the oysters produced in France each year are eaten between Christmas and New Year's.

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Italy: Coal Candy

The origin of Santa's lumps of coal for naughty children may have come from this Italian tradition. On the eve of Epiphany each year, La Befana, a magical old woman, fills the socks of well-behaved children with candy and baked goods. Naughty kids are treated to a lump of coal, a ritual that has morphed into filling kids' socks with a coal-like candy called carbone.

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Japan: "Kentucky for Christmas"

This relatively new holiday tradition in Japan began with a clever 1974 advertising campaign by Kentucky Fried Chicken extolling "Kentucky for Christmas." Curiously, in a country where more than 90 percent of the population is not Christian and does not celebrate Christmas, this tradition stuck. Lines to purchase the festively packaged Christmas chicken bucket, which today includes champagne and cake, can be hours long, so many savvy patrons preorder their dinners months in advance.

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Mexico: Night of the Radishes Festival

The night before Christmas Eve is a time to spend with friends and family, gear up for the coming holiday and celebrate at the Night of the Radishes festival, right? This popular tradition, which displays oversize radishes carved into Christmas figurines and scenes began in Oaxaca City in the mid-18th century as a way to attract people to the local Christmas Market. The quirky tradition was formalized into a festival in 1897 that is held each year on Dec. 23.

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Spain: 12 Grapes at Midnight

This New Year's, make sure you have your lucky grapes ready when the clock strikes midnight. For Spaniards, it's a test of will and determination that occurs annually on New Year's Eve. Eat all 12 grapes (one for each month) before the clock stops chiming and superstition says you will have a lucky year ahead. Superstitions aside, who wouldn't want to start the new year off with an eating contest?

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Sweden: Jansson's Temptation

Who is Jansson? It's not quite clear, but we certainly understand the temptation of this rich potato casserole, usually made with spiced anchovies (or pickled sprats), onions and cream. As a staple at the julbord, Sweden's traditional Christmas smorgasbord, this rich dish is something to celebrate.

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United States: The Christmas Pickle

As the tradition goes, the first child to find the pickle ornament hidden on the Christmas tree wins a reward. Woolworth department stores began importing these pickle-shaped ornaments from Germany in the 1880s, but the tradition is not a German one. It's more likely the whole idea was concocted by a creative salesman with too many pickle ornaments to sell. This tradition is particularly popular in the Midwest with the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World located in Berrien Springs, Mich. The people of Berrien Springs keep the tradition alive by holding their annual Christmas Pickle Festival each year called "Kindle Your Christmas Spirit" in early December.

Photo: Matt McClain for the Washington Post

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